Each summer my family took a week vacation in northern Michigan. For us, it’s just called up north. We spent all summer anxiously waiting for our week to go back up north and it was one of the highlights of our childhood. A lot of families took elaborate vacations to tropical places or went on week long cruises. We did a couple of those too but none of them compared to the time we spent in our rented cottage up north. There were so many memories made that it will always hold a very special place in my heart. I consider myself quite the expert so I decided to share my comprehensive guide of the things to do in Northern Michigan.
The Mackinaw Bridge
First and foremost, you have to go see the Mighty Mac- the Mackinaw Bridge. It’s such an amazing work of construction and it’s absolutely beautiful. A lot of people don’t know this but there is a restaurant that shows an old movie about the construction of the bridge. It is shown at Mama Mia’s, a restaurant in Mackinaw Crossings. You can order up a pizza and then head up to the top floor to watch the video on the bridge. The video is actually free so you don’t even have to eat there. The last time we went we had stopped and bought fudge and candy so we had some treats to enjoy while we watched it. It’s perfect for a rainy day activity and it’s so fascinating to hear the story of the construction. There is a small collection of antiques and items that were saved from the construction too which is fun to look at.
The next on my list is the ever popular Mackinaw Island. I’ve travelled across the ocean and across the USA but I’ve never found a place quite like Mackinaw. It’s the only place I know of that smells of both fudge and horse poop at the same time (and both smells are very strong). It’s a unique little place that holds a ton of history. I love the historical side of things so the island holds a lot of fascination for me. If you like your trips to be educational as well this is a perfect stop. I recommend getting there early in the morning, in fact, the first ferry is the best. From there you can bike around the island and enjoy all of the scenery. It’s not a strenuous ride and there are a ton of places to stop along the way. Each stop has a sign that reads off even some of the history. Once you are tired of biking there are a lot of little shops to enjoy or you can go watch some of the performances that are held at the fort. There are restaurants and coffee shops for you to enjoy. I’ve stayed on the island a few times and it’s definitely very fun and very, very beautiful. I wouldn’t recommend a whole week there but a weekend is definitely worth it.
Okay, hear me out here. There use to be several different mini golf spots in Northern Michigan and we use to visit all of them. This is something that we just don’t have at home. We use to have two that were very near to our house but they didn’t get enough business to be able to sustain the off-season. That made our mini golf up north even better. My absolute favorite one is Big Bear in Indian River. It’s well kept and very cute. There are also some other activities that you can do at Big Bear too. They have a river float which we’ve never done but it’s extremely popular on weekends so I imagine it’s pretty cool. My other favorite is Pirates Cove in Petoskey. This is another great course. Both would be perfect if you have kids along for your trip.
The Cross in the Woods
Another stop at Indian River that is well worth seeing. It’s breathtaking. The last time we went was after my second miscarriage. It was so healing to see that sight and to sit and pray there for a while. There is a little shop inside where you can also see even more historical items as well. You’ll see a common theme here and I think it’s just part of the essence of up north. There is a lot of history to take in. At Cross in the Woods there are also some paths that can be walked where you can take in more of the religion and pray. It’s very scenic and beautiful but I don’t recommend going in the evening because the mosquitos will carry you away.
Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
This is at the very tippy top of Michigan but I assure you the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is well worth the drive. This was the highlight of my trip last time. I hadn’t been since I was a kid and I definitely didn’t appreciate it nearly as much back then. This time I absolutely loved it. I learned so much more about the history of Michigan and the U.P. There is just something special about this area. I could definitely live there minus the fact that winter takes up so much of the year. The shipwreck museum is probably best for adults or older kids. They have a little gift shop too. There is a beach that you can walk to across the way. We saw others doing it but they also were complaining of mosquitos so I had no desire to go out that way. It’s a great view of Lake Superior though and if you haven’t been in or on or near that lake it’s well worth it. It’s cold all the time and if you happen to drown your body will not be recovered. Bodies don’t float in cold lakes like they do in warm lakes. Lots of shipwrecks and a lot of history make this a worthy stop on your trip.
I feel like this blog could go forever because there are so many great places in Northern Michigan and it depends on how far up you are and what side of the state you are on. Technically, anything north of Grand Rapids can be considered up north which makes this post really hard. Us Michiganders have a lot of things that we love up there and it’s hard to get it one area. Here’s the rest of my list with a lot less detail:
- Tahquamenon Falls
- The Soo Locks (try to catch a ship going through!)
- Legs Inn at Cross Village
- Silver Lake Sand Dunes
- Torch Lake
- Moomers Homemade Ice Cream
- Vineyards in Traverse City (there are many of them, this is great for a wine tour)
- Vivio’s in Indian River
- Boyne City (skiing and snowboarding in the winter)
- Mackinaw Crossings
- Sleeping Bear Dunes
- Cherry Republic in Traverse City
My one piece of advice is if you are exploring the U.P. always stop for gas. I don’t care if your tank is almost full, top it off. You just never know up there and always want to stay full. The phone service is pretty terrible so just be safe and get gas whenever you pass a station.
Have you visited Northern Michigan yet? What are your favorite activities up there?